Does the blogosphere have a January Effect? And a welcome to new readers

I’ve been blogging for a while now, and I’ve been delighted with the response. I average around a thousand RSS reader-based subscribers (according to Feedburner), tend to have around 300 unique IP addresses visit me daily (according to ClustrMaps) and get around 7 comments a post. [The IP addresses sometimes understate what is happening, given the number of “institutional” readers I appear to have, but that’s anecdotal and irrelevant unless I try to “monetise” myself…which I won’t do.] I’ve occasionally broken into Technorati’s Top 5000, but spend most of the time range-finding between 8000 and 12000. Alexa does not recognise me, and I think there’s a strange reason: It seems to insist on collecting statistics from people using Internet Explorer rather than any other browser, and that’s apparently bad for my community of readers :-)

This has been a steady pattern for a while, and it’s worked for me. I’ve sensed that I have a Dunbar number of around 300 in the digital world, and I’ve been delighted to find I know most of the steady ones. Over the years I’ve actually met most of the community of readers, usually at conferences. The face-to-face contact, in turn, leads to a deepening of the relationship, and we land up creating and developing links in Facebook and Twitter. [I still land up with a smidgeon of LinkedIn requests, but to be frank the only reason I go to LinkedIn is to deal with Invitations to Connect.]

So when I see a change in the pattern, I wonder. More recently, I’ve seen a surge in the number of readers and commenters, I’ve even met some of the new ones, and there’s something happening. This year, for example, the average number of IP addresses reported by ClustrMaps has doubled. Which leads me to do three things:

One, I want to welcome new readers and ensure that you are aware of what I try and get done via this blog, so I quote the About This Blog piece below. If you want to know more, then please read The Kernel for This Blog, also quoted below.

Two, I want to try and understand where this surge has come from. Three possibilities suggest themselves. (a) people who met me at Le Web, or saw coverage of my chat there; (b) people who’ve connected to me via Twitter, with the possibility that the Twitterverse is less overlapped with the blogosphere than I originally assumed; and (c) that there is some sort of January Effect, and people research and adjust reading habits over the year-end holiday. I would consider this to be a “small-cap blog“, so a January Effect sort of makes sense. So do comment on why you turned up here.

Three, I want to open up a dialogue on digital Dunbar numbers. Those of you who are prepared to do so, please share with the rest of us some of what you see and experience. How many Facebook friends do you have, how many regular readers of your blog, how many followers in Twitter, do you see a correlation between the three, if not why not, and so on. Do you tend to meet a core of this number on a face-to-face basis, if not why not? What other tools do you use, tools such as Dopplr and and netvibes and so on. Freeform comments are fine, this is not deep research. Just trying to get a sense of what’s happening.

An aside. You guys are a small community of readers, and I’m grateful for the time you give to coming here, and to the comments you write. I thought you’d be amused at your vacation habits, as shown in a recent ClustrMap….. every time people go on holiday, I can see a definite shift in the number of dots in sunny climes, particularly the Caribbean :-). Because the map gets archived at the end of every month, the effect is very visible.

So. As promised. Here’s the About This Blog piece. As usual, comments welcome.

About this blog

I believe that it is only a matter of time before enterprise software consists of only four types of application: publishing, search, fulfilment and conversation. I believe that weaknesses and corruptions in our own thinking about digital rights and intellectual property rights will have the effect of slowing down or sometimes even blocking this from happening.

I believe we keep building layers of lock-in that prevent information from flowing freely, and that we have a lot to learn about the right thing to do in this respect. I believe identity and presence and authentication and permissioning are in some ways the new battlegrounds, where the freedom of information flow will be fought for, and bitterly at that.

I believe that we do live in an age of information overload, and that we have to find ways of simplifying our access to the information; of assessing the quality of the information; of having better tools to visualise the information, to enrich and improve it, of passing the information on.

I believe that Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law and Gilder’s Law have created an environment where it is finally possible to demonstrate the value of information technology in simple terms rather than by complex inferences and abstract arguments.

I believe that simplicity and convenience are important, and that we have to learn to respect human time.

I believe we need to discuss these things and find ways of getting them right. And I have a fervent hope that through this blog, I can keep the conversations going and learn from them.

And here’s The Kernel For This Blog:

Building Society for the 21st Century

Economic models that succeed tend to take advantage of the abundances as well as the shortages that characterise a particular economic era. Traditionally, the primary factors of production used to be land, labour and capital; much of this was in “institutional” rather than individual hands, and as a result, attempts to create efficiencies in the use of these factors tended to create institutional models as a basis for reducing transaction costs.

Land ownership has changed; while governments, churches and firms still own land, there is far more individual ownership of land than ever before. Labour is no longer bonded, and the ability to migrate between firms and even countries has never been greater. Capital is also more mobile, with deregulated markets and dematerialised securities and electronic cash; when many individuals have better credit ratings than the institutions they bank with, the definition of what a bank does changes.

The nature of asset creation has also changed, with intangibles forming a growing proportion of GDP worldwide; we now impute monetary value on talent and skill and knowledge and network and brand and reputation.

The Agricultural Revolution transformed our ability to produce food cheaply; the Industrial Revolution helped us reduce plant and equipment production costs, as well as those of core infrastructure providing heating, lighting and transportation. There were also major demographic and societal changes: barriers based on race and sex began to erode, infant mortality was lowered and people began to live longer.

The Information Age heralded the dawn of a true Services Revolution as human capital grew in importance and communications costs reduced sharply. Technological advances a la Moore, Metcalfe and Gilder continued their relentless march, as price-performance improved, network effects were realised and everybody started getting connected.

Despite major technological advances over the past fifty years or so, one thing has not changed as appreciably: man’s longevity. And, since assets were increasingly based on intangibles, this created, and continues to create, a war for talent. Institutions have found it increasingly difficult to attract, retain and develop talent.

Every institution had to take steps to value and protect human time. Simplicity and convenience became important, “dial-tone” services became important, design and usability mattered. Technology adoption curves became inverted: historically, adoption was driven by those with the largest R&D budgets – defence, aerospace, high-end manufacturing and automobiles, sophisticated capital markets. Products trialled in these sectors slowly drifted towards mainstream commerce and much later towards consumers.

What inverted? The age of the early adopter changed, which moved startlingly from 35-40 years old towards 12-21 years old. When you look at mobile phones, texting, instant messaging, downloads, Skype, the iPod and iTunes phenomena, multifunction devices, the standards for these are all set by youth. And this trend is now moving towards changing the functionality of “established” web firms such as Google and Amazon, eBay and Yahoo.

It was this shift, when youth became the early adopters, which signalled a real change from institutional to individual capitalism; not having been exposed to how organisations worked and not caring about how governments operated, youth began to set the agenda.

Peer respect became more important than the power of hierarchical authority; relationships and trust returned to prominence after a long time in the wilderness; there were no longer any taboos about asking why things were the way they were, and challenging the status quo.

Today is their Sixties. And, in a vicarious way, ours too; The Age of the Individual.

Empowered and free from hierarchy, jealous about personal time, keen on relationships and trust, inquisitive about values and ethics, with the power of the web to change their perceptions of time and distance and organisations and government.
What does this mean for firms and governments? Another inversion. Now, as such institutions fight to hold on to their piece of the talent pool, they realise that historical carrots and sticks have no meaning to the new generation. People migrate to institutions that reflect the values they hold and make it possible for individuals to make a difference. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” has subtly shifted. Do ask what your country/company will allow you to do for them, before choosing.

This is not as shocking as it sounds. We already have odd critical masses developed over the years, such as shipping registration in Panama or company incorporation in Delaware or high-net-worth individuals domiciled in tax havens. It has been suggested that European IPOs grew as a result of Sarbanes-Oxley, as new entrants railed against increased regulation.
Human beings can now withhold their talent, their time, and their taxes, in ways that could not have been imagined before. Flash mobbing and IM and texting and blogs and wikis and video allow people to communicate in ways we could not have foreseen. The assembly-line approach that characterised our schools, hospitals, companies and governments is failing, as people choose to be different. Any colour you like, so long as it’s black, does not rule any more.

Assembly line approaches focus on consolidating volume and ensuring homogeneity, low standard deviation and uniformity. All citizens the same. All students the same. All the same.

The web is about diversity, individuality, personal-ness. People want to be connected, not channelled, to choose their experiences and to co-create them with peers they respect and trust.

As innovation democratises, and open-source ideas get shared and enriched and mutated, people behave differently. Diversity is no longer suppressed but celebrated.

We used to hate looking at someone else’s holiday movies and snapshots, but now we love Flickr. Why? Because we choose the time and place. Connected, not channelled.

Alumnus gatherings didn’t always work and were often lifeless, now they’re Friends Reunited. Why? Because we have transparency of information, simpler ways to discover the who and the where, and choice as to the relationships we grow. Connected, not channelled.

We choose the schools we go to, the courses we take at university, the firms we work for, the countries where we live, what we do with our time. When we work and when we sleep. We choose our relationships and who we spend time with. Connected, not channelled.

As the Cluetrain guys said, markets are conversations. They do not happen hierarchically. Even our Assembly Line software applications have disaggregated. All we have left is subscriptions to syndicated content, heuristically enhanced non-deterministic search, support for fulfilment and a framework to enable trust and collaboration.

Governments and firms are left feeling helpless, as central control diminishes and the power of the individual rises, and they need to recognise that bell curves now have very long tails.

As these changes come about, with individual capitalism and the subversion of institutions, we need new business models. What should these models do?

One, make a clear stance on values and ethics.

Two, allow relationships and collaboration to take place, rather than control the relationships.

Three, intermediate to enable trust and fulfilment rather than channel towards lock-in.

Four, recognise that the customer wants to create and co-create value rather than just receive.

Use what you stand for to attract the customer. Use what you do to retain the customer’s trust. Ensure that the customer is always free to leave, and paradoxically he or she will stay. Who is this customer? Your family. Your friend. Your employee. Your business partner. Your client. Your citizen.

In a world of empowered individuals, everyone’s a customer.

There are barriers in the way, and serious ones at that. There is a need to overhaul everything to do with Intellectual Property Rights, be they patents or trademarks or copyright or DRM or whatever. There is a need to avoid over-regulation, the creation of bad law driven by institutional values. This is particularly true for every form of communication, affecting big media, telcos, “content producers”, and the publishing industry in general.

This is going to be difficult, and often humorous, since these are tremendous changes. Witness what happened to Sony’s DRM or Hollywood’s attempts to send copies of Munich to the BAFTA judges. Witness what happened to Skype.

Connected, not channelled.

I wrote both About This Blog as well as The Kernel for This Blog a few years ago; my views remain the same. Your views will help me learn how to do what I want to do, better and faster.

23 thoughts on “Does the blogosphere have a January Effect? And a welcome to new readers”

  1. I’ve been a passive, occasional reader for a few months now (the entire Osmosoft crew basically coerced me into becoming a fan back in September… ).
    Yet, I became a true disciple only after having followed you on Twitter for a while. I’m not exactly sure why, but I suppose Twitter provides context, making it easier to relate to the issues discussed here.
    Bottom line: Of the three options given above, I choose one half (b) and one half (d), people who’ve been directed here by others.

    As for my social network profile: I have so far successfully avoided Facebook, my Twitter rating is currently 41/35 (I’d consider myself a Twit), and I have started blogging only a few days ago. Furthermore, I’m (primarily!) active on a couple of good old mailing lists (those are often ignored these days), and also a few wikis.

    On Twitter, I started out with a very small crowd of people I knew personally (more or less), but I’ve been slowly (and carefully) expanding my network of followers/followees.

    However, I’ve started to realize that (digital) social networks require a significant amount of effort and time to maintain. For that reason, I will try to keep it at a reasonable level, lest I spend my entire day blogging, commenting or tweeting…

  2. Thanks FND. Very helpful, I think you’re right. Twitter is somehow helping us extend the fabric of relationship in a digital world.

  3. JP,

    Fascinating post, and congratulations on your blog’s success. I’d be fascinated to know how much traffic Blog Friends has been sending you (you would see as a referrer in your stats package). We also have plans for some great new features like Twitter integration, blog badges and a Blog Friends 100 leaderboard of top posts which we hope will drive a lot *more* traffic to our blogger users.

  4. Thanks Luke, I will keep an eye out. Maybe that’s it, maybe it’s a function of StumbleUpon and Twitter and Blog Friends all doing something different in December as competition hots up….

    Keep it up with Blog Friends.

  5. Hi JP. I currently have 200 facebook friends (yourself among them!) and approx 1500 visitors a month to my blog (approx 50 a day). 78 people visited more than 200 times last month (according to google analytics – which does sounds nonsense to me!).
    Not a huge twitter user – but getting slowly drawn in – I follow 10 and have 15 followers.
    I don’t know if you’ll think this relevant to your digital dunbar number, but I have a theory about ‘coincidence’ among those of us who connect.
    It comes down to this; if I meet someone somewhere with whom I have a common interest or experience – and it all feels a bit coincidental – it will always turn out that you are within 3-degress of separation on Linked-In (assuming both parties are on Linked-In!). In short, serendipity is becoming the norm:

  6. There’s a fourth possibility you may want to consider, JP: the rest of the world is catching up with your thinking. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spend leading corporate horses to the web 2.0 waters only to watch them NOT drink. When I explain Google’s counter-intuitive success to suits, they say, “That makes no sense.” [That’s why it’s “counter-intuitive,” Professor Doofus.] What’s obvious to you is probably elusive to the rest of us. And even if a person like me “gets it,” I can’t articulate the way you can. If you watch how phenomena spread through cultures, there are inflection points where awareness swells and lurches forward, then consolidates. I’ve been at the epicenter of the Andre the Giant has a Posse thing from the beginning [Providence, RI, USA]. It was entirely local for several years. Now it’s global.
    There’s probably a lot of IT people out there that have nay-say’d these progressive ideas for years. Now, the march of time is proving them apt and accurate. So they’re getting on the band-wagon when it’s still ‘cool.’
    Hey, world – JP has a Posse!

  7. I’m probably a bit conservative, but still believe that less is more: online networks should reflect our real-life ones, instead of being an inflated collection of data records. Of course not all networks are the same: following the twitter -stream is more passive than let’s say becoming LinkedIn friends. I’m skipping Facebook here, as I still don’t know if it’s a social network, useful tool time-waster or just an advertising platform:-)

    Somwewhat off topic: I’m surprised at the East/West divide ClustrMaps shows within the US… how come you have so many more readers in the Eastern half of the country?

  8. Hi,

    First, I enjoyed your blog and thought you might like mine. Click here for some of my best jokes and videos The Peter Files Blog of Comedy, Jokes, Commentary and Video.

    End of shameless self-promotion.

    I have also experienced a “January Effect” and I wonder if it is not because this winter there are not just more people out there searching the internet looking for answers to questions relating to the future of our country, or, how to escape thinking about it.

    As I analyze where hits are coming to my blog which features a little political satire, but not a lot, I have seen an upsurge in queries relating to both political and escapist kinds of themes.

    A more important kind of impact may have been the Hollywood writers strike sending new people to the internet who have felt let down by mainstream media.

    Some of them may never go back!

    I’m not a pro, just a guy trying to spread a little joy and chase those naughty blues away.


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